Friday, January 25, 2008

you may as well knit

I won't even tire anyone by saying again how much I love Anne Lamott's work. Her essays are filled with so much fallibility, triumph, and, my favorite thing and hers, grace.

My friend D sent me a lovely set of books for my birthday last year. Sometimes it takes me a while to get around to reading things, but I do. I've happily thumbed Making a Living in Crafts, which is very inspiring, and laughed my way through Mr. Wrong. I saved Grace (Eventually), Lamott's book (I'm just going to call her Anne; she's my friend), knowing that I would pick it up at a time I most needed it.

Since my car is dead, I took the bus to work yesterday. Truly, I should do this all the time. I have a 4-minute walk to the bus stop from my apartment. After a 15 to 20-minute bus ride, I'm deposited smack in the middle of the sidewalk in front of my job. Yes, here in LA fruitcakes are prone to riding the bus. And yes, our city buses can be challenging to the olfactory glands. But both can be weathered with a good book, a mean look, and enough collar to pull up and cover the nostrils. My trouble is that I can be all gung ho about riding to work, but after work, I want to get my ass home on the fastest thing smokin'.

Anyhow, today I had Anne, to and fro, and I deeply enjoyed the company. Here is a line:

I knew that if you had the eyes to see, there was beauty everywhere, even when nature was barren or sloppy, and not just when God had tarted things up for the spring.

I read this on my way to work, in the book's prelude. I appreciated it, but didn't make any specific connection to it until later in the day, when I attended (Insert Career College Name Here)'s first Stitch-Along. Why I allow myself to be talked into these things, I'll never know. What this means is that Terry, once merely my co-worker, now my friend (after an 8-hour unofficial office Christmas party drink-a-palooza, who wouldn't be?), felt that since a few of us are crafty, she should learn to be crafty too, and she should take everyone in the office who is willing to come along with her. Suckers included me, my boss, who does counted cross stitch -- which to me looks like blindness waiting to happen -- and our receptionist, who wanted to learn how to knit in the round. (Our financial aid officer came in for a moment, too. She looked at my boss's project and said it was something she might want to learn. After watching my boss work with such fine material, she stood up, and said, Fuck that. I'll just buy it from you when you're done. Then she left.)

You already have eyes to see that this amounted to a teaching session for me. I pulled out my baby kimono project, but only for the purpose of demonstration.

I don't mean to sound like I minded. The more I teach, the more I realize I like it, as much as I can like anything that's not sewing, knitting, reading a book, eating, or maybe writing. I knew going in what my job was, and I was ready to do it.

It's nice work, teaching someone to create something. It's also nice to witness someone pick up something that brought her past joy and find the gift in it again. My boss hadn't worked her cross stitch project in nearly four years, since she started at our school (which should tell you something). In the interim, the fabric had yellowed, the hoop had rusted, and she had grown rusty, too. But somewhere in that sacred space that's opened when a group of people -- women, I could say, because that speaks to my experience -- gather in the name of handwork, she got her rhythm back. Her job is a highly stressful one, and hearing her say she might work on her piece (peace!) this weekend made me happy for her.

Our receptionist, too, has new zeal and bigger plans for her knitting. I showed her that knitting in the round is one of those things that looks hard to execute, but is really so easy it's almost criminal.

And so success, success all around. Except, perhaps, for Terry.

Not only our Terry, but all the Terrys of the world. Even those who don't carry the name, but who carry the doubt. The Doubting Terrys. And all the Carlas, too. Those who enter with the highest hope for conversion; those who believe, against all odds, including those they would place themselves, that everyone can find salvation in handwork.

Even while she was erecting neat little stitch after neat little stitch, Terry wasn't convinced she was getting it right. Even when I told her she was not only getting it right, but doing it much more quickly and efficiently than I did the first time I tried, she still wasn't convinced. She wasn't so sure that, in the end, it would be worth the effort. I don't get it, she said. I don't get why I shouldn't just walk into Ross and buy a scarf or a sweater or whatever I want. Why would I put time into doing this?

Oh, boy.

Because this, my friend, is where it's at.

It's relaxing, we told her. I do yoga for relaxation, she said.

It helps make the spare hours more productive, we chirped. I never have any spare hours, she said.

If this isn't your thing, we'll find you something, I promised. Next month, I'll show you crochet.

Terry's first project went from a washcloth to a book mark, which she isn't too far from finishing. I doubt she'll ever pick up the needles you see below, the ones I gave her for her birthday last year, again. I've got no beef with that.

For me the hard part is that we push so ruthlessly for perfection, and place so much value on finishing up, moving on, plowing ahead, getting the glory, that we fail to see the beauty in the barren and the sloppy. Terry isn't the only one. There's a Doubting Terry in all of us.

I've lived long enough to know this, and to have slain this dragon more than once, but still, it pierces me. I want to say:

You are not going to walk into Ross and buy this thing that you are making because the ability to do that is a fool's paradise. You do it, then you rush off to what that is so much more worthy of your time and attention than creating something with your own two hands? You will save this time for what? Are you off to heal lepers? Feed babies with distended bellies? Find a cheap cure for cancer? Here is news: all these things, yes, even these, involve the work of the hands. And you are not going to do any of them. So you may just as well knit. Or count tiny squares and pull thread through, into resplendence. You may as well make something lopsided, in a shitty color, and that only you can love.

Where else, but in the work of our hands, can we go back and undo our mistakes? Where else can all of us, regardless of our superficial bindings, love a thing enough to keep molding it, shaping it into what we hope best for it? And, when it is done, see the imperfections that remain, and love those too?

It is, I think, a flattering acknowledgment of the beauty that lies everywhere.


Hari said...

As always, I am glad that you are you. I'm so, so relieved that you came back to blog-land for posts like this. I had a co-worker say to me yesterday, "I don't have the time to knit anymore" like I was wasting my time with it. I told her-- neither do I, but I feel so much BETTER while I'm knitting! And I feel so much better when I'm wearing something that I knit, or see someone I love wearing something I made for them. Currently, I'm knitting what I call a "scrap-otis" (clapotis of scrap yarn) because it's so damn cold here and I bike to work. Which was another thing I was going to suggest for you, when you're fully healed. It's better than the bus and the car; for me, anyway. Days when I have to take the train are more stressful, even with knitting in tow, than the bike; maybe it's the lack of human contact (olfactory or otherwise).

Anyway-- excellent post. Don't stop knitting (and sewing, and everything else you do!)


woolanthropy said...

Amen sister. Peace and grace and new eyes with clear vision and an open happy heart and busy hands with woolly string or good book. I am so grateful when these things come together and I remember to pause and soak it all up.

Adrienne said...

Ishould have not gone to sleep last night and stayed up for this post! LOL Great post!!!

AllyB said...

I'm so glad I read your post today. I too am an Anne Lamott fan. I carry a quote from one of her books in my wallet. It has helped me past a few things in life. Have a great day!

Ellen Bloom said...

Idle hands...idle mind. I always feel better with a hook or needles in my hands. It's centering. Excellent post.

Anonymous said...

This is such great writing, love to read your words. Tell Terry that 'she knits, so she is'. To borrow from that old saying.

I had a friend who I tried to encourage to use her hands for crafting or sewing instead of lighting up cigarette after cigarette. She claimed she couldn't stop smoking and I tried to tell her, 'well, if your hands were busy doing something else'......
Well she did stop smoking...she died from smoking related cancer at 39yrs of age.

Sappmama, later today I'll upload a picture on my Flickr acct for you to see my trials and tribulations.


Anonymous said...

And later today:
I picked up my Singer 401 electric this evening. It needs a good cleaning and oiling, more oiling than cleaning although the bobbin area was grotty!
I'll take it on tomorrow.

Sappmama, did you check the brushes in the motor of your 404?

Oh the pic, didn't get around to doing it today, sorry about that.


Nik said...

I must say that this is the first time I've read someone write such a beautiful piece about crafting/knitting. You're fucking amazing, girl.

I'm just saying, is all.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sappmama, I hope this link works. Here is a pic of my attempts at knitting and my little helpers. As you can see I am practising multiple in stripes...LOL.

Anonymous said...

Your post is genius, but you didn't mention the comfort and joy that comes from a pair of handknit wool socks or mittens on a miserably cold day. I live in Iowa and we've been having prime knitting weather---the actual temps have been going below zero at night and when it warms up into the 20's, it's been snowing. I've also been enjoying your posts on vintage sewing machines. I *know* you said not to write about this, but I have a 22 year old mechanical Viking that I bought new. I've been trying to improve my zipper skills, and there is something reassuring about coming back to my old machine and ignoring the new computerized machine I bought last spring. My old machine isn't vintage (yet), but I hope I'm still sewing on her when she is.

sappmama said...

I do not heart that Blogger ate my previous comment, which was a big, sloppy, THANK YOU to everyone who has commented on this post. I so appreciate the sharing and the love. xoxo

Meranie, I am lucky to have you as a reader. :) And YES to biking instead of driving/bussing. Someone stole my bike when I first moved here to LA. I'm almost at the point where I'm over it enough to buy a new one. Almost, lol. Good luck with your scrap-o-tis! That's an inspired idea.

AllyB, always lovely to know another Anne fan. :)

Heather, that is so sad. Oprah just did a show on smoking. She and Dr. Oz tried to urge a group of people (along with the rest of America) to quit. I kept thinking -- Take up knitting! Take up knitting! I know having something to occupy the hands is helpful. Oh, and congrats again on your 401! So exciting. I'm not ready to go inside the 404 motor yet! Ack! But it's running fine so I think I have a little more time. Oh no! I tried to view your pic but flickr says it's private. I'd love to see!

Anonymous said...

Hi Sappmama,
That flickr picture should show, drats. I didn't klick 'private', it is set for friends. I'd better go check.

Anonymous said...

Been there, it was set for friends, don't know why it didn't show. Now I have opened all the pictures (about flowers mostly)public until tomorrow.

sappmama said...

Dang, H! I don't know what I was expecting -- probably I was thinking of my own, um, interesting sojourn into stripes -- but you're doing lovely work! I added the photo to my favorites.